Best of 2010: 10 Orlando Event Industry Highlights

By Mitra Sorrells December 13, 2010, 9:50 AM EST

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

As part of our Best of 2010 look back at the last year, we asked our local editors to share their—admittedly subjective—take on the most important things to happen in their markets this year. Here's what Orlando bureau chief Mitra Sorrells had to say.
1. Harry Potter Arrives at Universal
After more than five years of planning and two years of construction, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June at Universal Orlando Resort's Islands of Adventure theme park, becoming the coolest new spot to host a party or convention outing. The 20-acre, elaborately themed attraction transports guests into the adventures of Harry Potter, with a massive Hogwarts Castle as the centerpiece, and butterbeer as the signature drink. An invitation-only opening-night party saw many of the film's stars in attendance.

2. Amway Center Opens
The Amway Center was another highly anticipated new venue that opened in 2010. The $380 million, 875,000-square-foot facility is nearly triple the size of the old Amway Arena and comes packed with loads of new features both big (the largest scoreboard in any N.B.A. arena) and small (cup holders at every seat). In addition to serving as the home of the N.B.A.’s Orlando Magic, the city is hoping the new venue will attract more big-name concerts (Lady Gaga will play a sold-out show April 15) and events.  

3. Tampa Wins 2012 Republican National Convention
Tampa Bay and Company, the area convention and visitors bureau, hosted the 2012 Republican National Committee’s chairman, site selection committee, and other key figures in the event's city selection process during a three-day visit in April. The work paid off—in May the R.N.C. announced it had chosen Tampa to host the convention in 2012

4. I.A.A.P.A. Attractions Expo Commits to Orlando
The folks at the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau are probably still smiling about the August announcement that the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions has picked Orlando to host its huge I.A.A.P.A. Attractions Expo for the next 10 years. The show, which brought 25,000 people and an estimated $48 million impact to the region in November, was supposed to return to Las Vegas in 2011. Now it will be here through 2019. 

5. Walt Disney World Projects
It appears the folks at Walt Disney World are confident in the future of the region’s travel and tourism industry. The company is embarking on several new projects including a massive overhaul of the Fantasyland section of Magic Kingdom that is the largest expansion project since the park opened in 1971. Disney is also refurbishing the Star Tours ride in Hollywood Studios, and two new restaurants opened in August in Epcot: Via Napoli Pizzeria in the Italy pavilion and La Hacienda de San Angel in the Mexico pavilion. And maybe the best news of all for the event industry: Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island—once a hugely popular nightlife spot for corporate parties and conventioneers that has been largely empty since 2008—is being reborn into Hyperion Wharf, what Disney describes as “a nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th-century port city and amusement pier.” 

6. International Pow Wow
The U.S. Travel Association brought its International Pow Wow, the largest global trade show for the travel industry, to Orlando in May. More than 5,000 guests attended the three-day event, which included an opening-night party at Walt Disney World and a closing party at SeaWorld Orlando.

7. Peabody Orlando Expansion
Convention space on International Drive continued to grow in 2010 with the completion of the Peabody Orlando’s $450 million expansion and renovation project. The updated property now has 300,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and entertainment space. At 32 stories, the Peabody’s new tower is one of the tallest buildings in Orlando. One of the only things that has not changed: the famous Peabody ducks that lounge in the lobby.  

8. Star Wars Celebration V
If you traveled anywhere near the Orange County Convention Center or the theme parks in mid-August, it was hard to miss the thousands of Star Wars fanatics, most decked out in full costumes from the sci-fi saga. Lucasfilm Ltd. chose Orlando to host Star Wars Celebration V—the world’s largest Star Wars party, with four days of presentations from cast and crew, interactive activities, panel discussions, live entertainment, autograph sessions, and merchandise booths. The weekend included a late-party at Disney's Hollywood studios.

9. Church Street Revitalization
Due in large part to the opening of the new Amway Center, nearby Church Street in downtown Orlando appears to going through yet another revitalization (the third or fourth in its nearly 40-year history, depending on whom you ask). New venues like Baby Grands Dueling Piano Bar and Mojo Cajun Bar and Grill both opened in October and offer options for corporate gatherings. Several more restaurant and nightlife spots are under construction.

10. Orlando Science Center Video Game Expo
In January the Orlando Science Center attracted nearly 10,000 people to Otronicon, a four-day event to showcase the relationship between science, art, and technology. The center, along with its 13 game company partners, set up more than 150 gaming stations, simulators, and interactive exhibits throughout the four floors of the science center.

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